Daily D – Matthew 5:29-30
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
MATTHEW 5:29-30 (CSB)
I worked with a guy when I was in college who believed these two verses should be taken literally. He was of the opinion that if we cut off a few hands and plucked out a few eyeballs that we would have many fewer problems in our society. I could not help but notice that he had both eyes and both hands. I guess he intended that kind of justice for other people.
In the summer of 1983, I read a book entitled, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True. Several other books with similar titles and themes came out about the same time. What I noticed on that summer afternoon of reading was that the author made distinctions among the different types of literature in the different parts of the Bible.
Narrative passages are to be taken at face value. Apocalyptic passages require special hermeneutical perspective. Poetic passages often include symbolism rather than literal language. Consider Isaiah 55:12:
You will indeed go out with joy
and be peacefully guided;
the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
I have never heard a mountain or a hill sing. Trees do not have hands. These poetic images are dramatic and moving, especially to a group of people who had been carried off into exile and were now told they would be restored to their homeland. They are not, however, literal realities. Even so, the images are no less powerful.
I do not want to live in the world my coworker envisioned all those years ago. I am pretty sure that kind of world was not what Jesus intended. Think about this: Peter had both eyes and both hands at the end of the story. Surely he deserved to have his tongue pulled out for denying that he even knew Jesus.
When Jesus met a man with blind eyes, he opened them. When he met a man with a withered hand, he healed it. When he met a man who was lame, he gave him the ability to stand and to walk. It appears, if we take him literally, that he was on the side of restoration and renewal much more than the side of punishment and lopping off things.
Jesus teaches here in the Sermon on the Mount the serious problems we get into when we do not control our emotions and we allow our emotions to control us (Matthew 5:21-26). He tells us how to stop the progression of sinful thoughts turning into sinful actions (Matthew 5:27-30). He helps us see how dangerous it is when we live an untempered life. Undisciplined speech and unbridled desire lead to painful consequences.
Jesus teaches us self-control. He teaches us that it’s never too early to shut up, especially when we are angry. He teaches us the discipline of not having to speak the last word.
Jesus teaches us the self-discipline of looking the other way when we would prefer to leer in lust. He teaches us to keep our hands to ourselves when we would prefer to caress someone who is not in a committed, loving relationship with us.
Self-discipline and self-control are gifts we give to ourselves, and to others. They maximize the good things in our lives and minimize hurt. This is literally true.
If we are like Jesus, we will use our eyes to see what God sees. We will use our hands to bring healing and help. We will speak the truth in love and understand that sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing. What a pity it would be if we had no eyes left to see the needs and opportunities around us. What a pity it would be if we could not lend a hand. What a pity it would be if we could not speak tender truth and loving affirmation.
I will literally do what Jesus intends.
Our Father, please turn me right-side up as often as necessary so that I may join you in your work of redemption, renovation, and restoration. Deliver me from the need to look good and to enjoy the applause of my peers. Empower me to know and live in full alignment with the truth you have lovingly preserved for us in the Bible. Amen.
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John 5:19 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son likewise does these things. (CSB)
Ezra 3:12 But many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this temple, but many others shouted joyfully. (CSB)